Agrarian Utopia

Film
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Is this really happening? It's easy to take Uruphong Raksasad's spellbinding look at a Thai rice-farming community as a straight documentary, especially when one of the croppers winds his way through some actual volatile political assemblies in a bustling metropolis. But once the movie settles at its primary location---a stunningly verdant rural outpost near the city of Chiang Mai---the sense that we're watching a cleverly concealed fiction increases, even though the verisimilitude remains.

Raksasad, himself the son of agriculturalists, actually did construct much of this scenario, leasing a plot of land that he then populated with professional farmers to work over the course of a year. And yet the realities of these characters' situation (backbreaking labor, perpetual hunger, the threat of property seizure) are not so far removed from their real-life experiences. There is an undercurrent of bureaucratic critique (those civic pep rallies are there for a reason), but this fascinatingly knotty movie never becomes a facile screed against the powers that be. Instead, it plays as a more relaxed and leisurely requiem for a slowly vanishing way of life, with sounds and images---a time-lapse contemplation of the cosmos is in the running for scene of the year---that are as mesmerizing as they are subtly pointed.

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